In his final play, Shakespeare laments, "Our little life is rounded with a sleep." The sleep that rounds us all-- vast, profound and impenetrable-- offers artists no clues. There are no colors or shapes or designs to portray. In fact, the signals we receive from our meager senses usually make the artist look silly.
In Robert Frost's poem Home Burial, a mother wails over her inability to comprehend her dying child:
The nearest friends can goPerhaps for this reason, most artists don't try to go at all, resigning themselves to depicting the detritus left behind:
With anyone to death, comes so far short,
They might as well not try to go at all
Artists who do try to conceptualize what lies beyond consciousness usually get about as far as the veil:
Painter Arnold Bocklin employed a similar device-- a distant island-- but the point was the same: no sneak previews allowed.
If art cannot see past the veil, what consolation can it give us?
For me, one of the most successful efforts was George Herriman's lovely dialogue between Krazy Kat and the afterlife. Krazy Kat used an ouija board to seek the wisdom of the spirits on the other side of the veil.
Herriman's strip was a mad, magical marriage of profundity and whimsy. His light touch enabled him to avoid the pitfalls of his lugubrious predecessors, but he was no less wise.
Any information we might glean from "the other side" will end up as whatever we decide to hear. Herriman's humanity seems a far better response to our predicament than the grim visions of Bocklin or Brueghel.